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THE SITUATION ROOM
U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Surpasses 91,000; All States Will Have Reopening Plans Under Way By End Of Week; Trump Defends Use Of Unproven Drug; There Are 87,000-Plus Cases In Massachusetts, 5,800 Deaths; Sources: CDC Staff Being "Muzzled", White House Prioritizing Politics Over Science; Russia Nears 300,000 Coronavirus Cases, Second To U.S.; CDC Health Alert Warns Pediatricians To Be On Lookout For Rare Inflammatory Syndrome In Children. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired May 19, 2020 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): It is a contained environment. They're getting good health care. And we're isolating them to the extent we can. In terms of the community we would --
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: OK.
HUTCHINSON: -- add into --
TAPPER: Yes, I knew we were going to lose that, as we hit the hour, we lost the window. Governor Hutchinson, wherever you are, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're following breaking news.
The coronavirus death toll here in the United States now topping 91,000 people with more than 1.5 million confirmed cases. Worldwide there are close to 5 million confirmed cases and more than 320,000 deaths.
Also breaking, for the third time in 24 hours, President Trump only moments ago defending his use of hydroxychloroquine to protect against the coronavirus despite warnings from his own Food and Drug Administration that it's unproven for that use and can potentially be rather dangerous.
Meanwhile, Connecticut has become the 50th state to announce plans for partial reopening starting tomorrow. By the end of this week, all states will be open again, at least to some extent.
Let's begin with the breaking news over at the White House. Our White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond is joining us. Jeremy, the FDA says hydroxychloroquine has not been shown to be either safe or effective for treating or for preventing the coronavirus. But the President says it gives him an additional level of safety. JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf. President Trump's defiance today in the face of all the criticism he's facing after he announced yesterday that he has been taking a daily dose of hydroxychloroquine for about a week and a half now. The President defending his decision and also attacking studies, several studies that have shown that hydroxychloroquine is not effective against coronavirus, either in treating the infection or in preventing one from getting it in the first place. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Now, you have to go to a doctor. I have a doctor in the White House. I said, what do you think? And it's just a line of defense. I'm just talking about as a line of defense. I'm dealing with a lot of people. Look at all the people in the room. You know, I'm the President and I'm dealing with a lot of people. And it's a very inexpensive drug. It's almost pennies.
But I think it's worth it as a line of defense. And I'll stay on it for a little while longer. I'm just very curious myself. But it seems to be very safe. But that study was a phony study put out by the VA. That was a phony study and it's very dangerous to do it. The fact is, people should want to help people, not to make political points. It's really sad when they do that.
You know, a lot of people have taken it, a lot of doctors have taken it, a lot of people swear by it. It's gotten a bad reputation only because I'm promoting it.
What has been determined is it doesn't harm you. It's a very powerful drug, I guess, but it doesn't harm you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DIAMOND: That is just not true, noting that this is not something that can harm you. In fact there are several warnings about hydroxychloroquine, and some of these clinical studies that have been conducted on coronavirus patients, some of those patients actually have to stop taking hydroxychloroquine because they were developing a serious heart arrhythmia. So it can cause heart problems among other potential side effects.
But Wolf, that study that the President was slamming there was in fact partially funded by the National Institutes of Health, and it was conducted in Veterans Affairs hospitals. So that is extremely notable.
And also, Wolf it's not the only say. There was a study just last week published in "The American Medical Association Journal," a study of 1,400 patients that showed that hydroxychloroquine has no effect on coronavirus patients. And as you said, Wolf, the FDA has warned that it has not been proven to be an effective treatment for coronavirus or to prevent somebody from getting that infection.
Wolf, the President also today for the first time linking the fact that he started taking hydroxychloroquine after one of his Oval Office military valets contracted the virus. We knew that at the time, Wolf, the President grew very concerned about that infection inside the White House. Wolf?
BLITZER: Has he specifically, Jeremy, been asked to react to what the food and drug administration has said? If you go to their website, you see the warnings right there.
DIAMOND: Yes, Wolf, the President was asked today why he is taking this drug when the FDA recommends specifically that it should not be used outside of a hospital setting or a clinical study. The President certainly is not in a clinical study and he is not in a hospital at the moment. But the President saying instead that he simply felt it was appropriate, that he had asked the doctor at the White House.
The White House doctor, Wolf, we should note, did put out a letter last night saying that they weighed the pros and the cons of this and ultimately determined the benefits outweigh the potential risks. But Wolf again those risks, include potential heart arrhythmias and we should note that the President, according to his recent physicals, does have a common form of heart disease.
BLITZER: All right, Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thanks very much.
Well let's get the insights right now from the former Acting Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Boris Lushniak along with our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.
Sanjay, the President once again pushing this unproven drug that has some pretty serious potential side effects. It works for lupus, it works for malaria, arthritis. But the FDA specifically warning, don't do it if you think it's going to help you prevent get coronavirus.
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: There's no evidence to suggest that it does that right now. I mean that some of the studies are under way looking at hospital workers who have exposures or people who live with somebody who has coronavirus, because of their exposures.
That data does not -- and we don't have that data, there's no evidence that that works as a prophylaxis. And it's important to point out, there's two different things here, the idea of taking it because you're worried about exposure, you haven't but -- but you don't have the infection yet, and then taking it as a treatment.
And some of those studies that have been done admittedly have been small studies, looking at it as a treatment. But they have not really shown any benefit and some have shown concern about harm, actually causing cardiac abnormalities.
I think what is important is, you know, Jeremy brought this up, it sounds like, you know, the President may have had a significant exposure. That's what's sort of prompting all this, a significant exposure probably to -- obviously to somebody probably working in the White House, and that's maybe why that this discussion even started between him and his doctor. But there is no evidence that it works as a prophylaxis.
The FDA has said after they looked at some of the exist studies, OK, no longer use it off-label, use it only under the auspices of a clinical trial or in a hospitalized setting. Three cardiology associations came out and basically said there is enough concern here that it could cause cardiac abnormalities, especially in people with underlying disease that we don't recommend using this off-label anymore.
So, you know, it's a confusing situation. Obviously the President has resources that most people don't have. He can get an EKG every day, a couple of times a day, if he wanted to check for these abnormalities. Most people can't do that and I'm worried that people are going to go out and start take this and possibly harm themselves.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Dr. Lushniak, because I went to the FDA Food and Drug Administration website today, this is specifically and I'll put it up in the screen what they warn. Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating and/or preventing COVID-19.
Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can cause abnormal heart rhythms such as QT interval prolongation and a dangerously rapid heartbeat called ventricular tachycardia, I'm not exactly sure what ventricular tachycardia, I'm not even sure I'm pronouncing that right, but what's your reaction to that?
BORIS LUSHNIAK, FORMER ACTING SURGEON GENERAL: Well, you know, it's getting more and more ridiculous with the President and hydroxychloroquine. I'll be quite frank about this.
First of all, right now he's touting this as a potential preventive measure, and he's really relying this on anecdotal information, on storytelling, on letters that he's getting, right? At the same time, any studies that have been done in this regard, he's basically saying the studies were done incorrectly. So therefore his big question is, what's the harm?
Well, we heard from Sanjay, there is harm. We hear from FDA, there is harm. And for the President of the United States to serve as an example, to saying I'm taking this as a preventive measure, therefore, dot, dot, dot, you American public should consider during that. This is dangerous, it's wrong, it's not the right medical approach nor the right public health approach.
BLITZER: Well, do you worry Doctor, that Americans might be listening to the President rather than the doctors, the scientists, the experts at the FDA?
LUSHNIAK: Well, certainly. I mean, there's a danger in all of this. The good thing about hydroxychloroquine is what? It's not over the counter. So at the same time one has to find a physician who will agree to this. You know, the reality is, I'm not sure what's going on out there anymore regarding hydroxychloroquine.
And, you know, what we have to do is be able to control it by the examples we give for the American public. One, it's not -- never been proven to work as a preventive measure. It's not working in that realm. OK, we can have the studies. But now is not the time to self experiment here, folks.
BLITZER: You know, Dana, the President claimed that the doctors who warned about hydroxychloroquine were making what he called a Trump enemy statement, Trump enemy statement. Why has he so heavily politicized a malaria drug that most of us haven't heard of until a few months ago?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Because in his mind, people who don't agree with him, even though in this scenario it's not a factual statement, it's the President acting as doctor, that they're wrong, and that doctors are wrong, that they must not like him, it must be a political statement, when, as you just heard from both of the physicians here, and you pointed out, it is his own FDA, the government agency that is charged with making recommendations of what to use and not use drugs for, saying no, that this is a very dangerous thing to do for lots of reasons.
So when the President sees and hears pushback, especially something that he's gone out so far on a limb on like hydroxychloroquine, you know, for the last couple of months, he stopped for a little while but initially he was really gung-ho, this is his nature. This is who he is. This is his character.
He doubles, triples, quadruples down, and that is what he is doing now. And if you throw in a sprinkle of, they're just my enemies, then you get the whole Trump package.
BLITZER: Yes, the President is not backing off of this at all. All right, Dana, thank you very much, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Boris Lushniak, guys, thank you so much as well. We'll get back to you.
There more breaking news, we're following here in "The Situation Room", President Trump triple downs once again on his use of unproven and possibly unsafe drug, while shunning the use of the mask.
Plus, the latest on the reopening of the U.S. economy, all 50 states will be open at least to some extent by this Sunday.
BLITZER: Connecticut is poised to get back to business starting tomorrow with a partial reopening of its economy, it's the last state to make that move. CNN's Nick Watt has the very latest for us. Nick, by this Sunday all 50 states will be at least partially reopened.
NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. And, you know, the governor of Connecticut just said the timing is right. I was just going back through their numbers. And about a month ago, mid-April, they were seeing more than a thousand cases, more than a hundred deaths every day. Now, today they reported 314 new cases and just 23 deaths.
And in the weird world we all now live in, that is progress.
WATT (voice-over): Sunset tonight, they'll raise those flags from half-staff. Sunrise tomorrow, Connecticut becomes the final state to start. Restaurants will reopen, but outdoor only.
GOV. NED LAMONT (D-CT): We'll see whether people feel comfortable going back to restaurants.
WATT (voice-over): Indoor office space will also open and in-person retail. But many restrictions remain.
LAMONT: We're taking baby steps.
WATT (voice-over): Another big chunk of New York State reopened today. But unlike years past, no big memorial day parades this week. Gatherings limited to just ten.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): Vehicle parades I think are appropriate and should be encouraged.
WATT (voice-over): As we reopen, masks are seemingly helpful, according to those well-known modelers who just dropped their projected U.S. deaths estimate by a few thousand.
CHRISTOPHER MURRAY, DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE OF HEALTH METRICS AND EVALUATION: The fraction, the population in different states that are wearing masks, we think that's really the key difference there. That's probably helping separate out that impact of rising mobility from turning into increased transmission.
WATT (voice-over): This, by the way, a packed graduation ceremony in Oklahoma. The assistant principal says people did wear masks. I can't see many, or any. Other signs we're still far from fine, the border with Canada will stay closed for at least another month to all but essential travel apparently for their safety.
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: We know we need to do more to ensure that travelers who are coming back from overseas or from the United States as Canadians are properly followed up on.
WATT (voice-over): Hawaii also extended that mandatory two-week quarantine for all visitors now through the end of June. More colleges are reconfiguring the academic year to start but then stop classes around thanksgiving for fear of a COVID resurgence in the fall.
BRIAN HEMPHILL, PRESIDENT, RADFORD UNIVERSITY: This is going to be something that I think will change higher education, it will change the landscape of higher education.
WATT (voice-over): And more proof that COVID-19 is not in fact a great leveller. New York City released zip code data that shows black and Latino New Yorkers dying around twice the rate of their white counterparts when adjusted for age.
Signs of hope, some NFL training facilities reopened today. Southwest just reported an uptick in ticket sales. And this in Arkansas, a concert. Temperature checks on the way in, and so-called fan pots, no mash pit.
WATT: Now as we move into summer, there is no playbook for how do we handle summer activities and sports. That's what we just heard from the infectious diseases society. They say that in public swimming pools, there should be enough chlorine to kill the virus, but do you social distance when you're hanging out in the sallow end? And sports, it's very difficult for spectators or players to social distance in pretty much any sport.
Looking even further ahead, that might be why the NFL in Oakley now apparently looking into somehow getting n95 mask material inside football players' helmets. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right very interesting indeed, our Nick Watt reporting, thank you.
Joining us now, the Mayor of Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh.
Mayor Walsh, thanks for joining us.
I want to get to the reopening of your city and your state in a moment, but first let me get your quick reaction to the President saying he's taking this drug hydroxychloroquine that his own Food and Drug Administration says flatly, it has not been shown to be safe and effective in preventing coronavirus. Do you worry about the example the President of the United States is setting for the rest of the country?
MAYOR MARTY WALSH (D), BOSTON, MA: Well certainly you shouldn't put anything in your body, any drugs in your body that you don't need. And this has proven time and time again, this drug does not battle COVID- 19.
So I don't understand the rationale behind it. The last time the President made an announcement was like was with disinfectants and we had some problems there. So I would hope that people go to their health care providers and talk to their doctors before they start putting something in their body that you don't know what the implications are going to be.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a good point. Your state, Massachusetts, isn't seeing a decline in new cases, at least not yet. So why is the state moving toward this partial reopening next week?
WALSH: The governor has come up with a four-phased approach. In the first phase we have manufacturing, construction, office space, hair salons and barbershops, pet grooming, car washes, a couple of other ones, houses of worship. And I think that this is the plan that he feels comfortable with.
He's seeing some declines in the numbers statewide. Our numbers in Boston haven't declined as much I would like them to decline to be able to open these. That's why we asked for a deferral on opening offices, we're not going to open offices in the city after until June 1st.
Construction started in the city on Monday but with very tight parameters and safety protocols put in place. That came -- that companies came up with it, the workforce came up with it. And also the developers came up with it. So we're going to be monitoring that very closely.
I think that it's the first step. A lot of more kind of controversial issues, if you will, restaurants and things like that, are in phase II. So I think those are going to take a lot more and looking at the data that to base and how we open things up safely.
BLITZER: As you pointed out, your offices in Boston will open a week later in the rest of the state and you say you're not comfortable for the governor's plan for offices at what 25% capacity. What special considerations, Mayor, do you think you need to keep Boston safe?
WALSH: Well the governor's plan calls for up to 25 percent capacity. We're looking at that number now. And we're also working on protocols so we can give out to all of the different companies here in the city and the building owners in the city, so as they think about how to get their employees in and outside of buildings.
Some companies already made the decision, companies like Liberty Mutual State Street and Mass Mutual in Boston have decided they're not going to really open their office full capacity until the summertime, which is great, and we're hoping more companies follow through.
It really is going to be, we're asking people to work from home as best as possible and allow their employees to work from home right now. You know, I think, as we open these different businesses up, which I know we have to for our economy, but we're asking people to do it at a gradual, slow pace.
BLITZER: What's your message in addition to that to the residents of Boston, as we head into this Memorial Day weekend?
WALSH: I mean, it's really important that, you know, I think a lot of people in Boston have done a great job of not spreading the virus and they're doing it by social, physical distancing, by wearing masks, by wearing, you know, in some cases gloves when they go out, also washing hands as much as possible and cleaning down surfaces.
We have to stay very vigilant to continue to do that because as we go back to society, it's still going to be a super majority of the people that have not had the coronavirus, and in order to stop the spread of it or keep yourself safe from getting it, it's important that you follow those guidelines.
BLITZER: Certainly is. Mayor Marty Walsh, thanks so much for joining us, good luck.
WALSH: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right coming up, as President Trump reportedly ramps up his criticism of the CDC, multiple sources inside the agency are now telling CNN they're convinced politics, not science, is the driving force behind the White House coronavirus response. Stand by for new information.
BLITZER: CNN has learned President Trump was intensely critical of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during his lunch today with Senate Republicans. This comes as sources inside the CDC along with former top officials are sounding alarms about how the prestigious agency is being treated by the Trump White House.
Let's go to our Senior Investigative Correspondent, Drew Griffin. Drew, what are you learning?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, inside the CDC, there is frustration and quite frankly worry that this nation's COVID-19 response is being guided by politics and not the science and the data that's needed to overcome it.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Multiple sources inside the Centers For Disease Control tell CNN they are convinced politics, not science, is the driving force behind the White House response to COVID-19. And those decisions had made the effects of the pandemic in the United States worse.
DR. JAMES CURRAN, DEAN, ROLLINS SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH, EMORY UNIVERSITY: Now, there hasn't been as much input from the CDC from my point of view.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): CNN spoke to six current CDC staff members and many of them say the White House has stifled the CDC in its coronavirus response, and at times, limited its ability to provide health information to the public. One source telling CNN, "We are working under a black cloud of an administration that doesn't have our backs". Another saying, "We've been muzzled".
Dr. James Curran is dean of Public Health at Emory University and former assistant surgeon general at the CDC.
(on-camera): Has the CDC been sidelined here?
CURRAN: I think the perception is that the CDC has been sidelined, at least part of the time. Once you feel like the work you're doing is going through a political lens, it gets to be very, very discouraging.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): On March 2nd, as COVID-19 was racing across the globe, a CDC internal daily report obtained by CNN found evidence of local transmission in 29 other countries. Two days later, that had grown to 85 international locations.
The next day, March 5th, three of the top six countries affected by the disease are in Europe. Internal e-mails rival a CDC global travel alert is about to be issued, expected to be posted that night. It would have urged precautions for international travel anywhere, almost two months after a travel warning had been issued for China.
But it was delayed for unexplained reasons. The travel alert that was supposed to be posted March 5th does not take place until March 11th, the same day President Trump would announce his restrictions on most flights coming in from Europe.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Each day of delay bringing exponentially more coronavirus exposure to the east coast of the United States, according to Dr. Ali Khan, a former CDC official.
DR. ALI KHAN, DEAN, COLLEGE OF PUBLIC HEALTH, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA MEDICAL CENTER: Those were the days when these cases were essentially being transported via air travel. And we now have really good genetic data that, you know, probably between two to six weeks before we started to see the peak in New York, cases were already slowly spreading within the New York area.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): One senior official inside the CDC says they told the White House about the virus' rapid spread across Europe but that the White House was extremely focused on China and not wanting to anger Europe, even though that's where most of our cases were originally coming from. Khan says the original sin, as he calls it, was the botched testing at the CDC that lost time and allowed politics to intervene.
KHAN: And if we had testing in place, people very quickly would have recognized that there were cases in the U.S. probably in early January that were being missed. Similarly, we would have identified people coming in from Europe if we had widespread testing across the United States. So we missed all of that for the lack of testing.
GRIFFIN: Wolf, neither the CDC nor the White House responded to our questions for this report. Dr. Ali Khan says the CDC and all its expertise is what we need right now to overcome this pandemic. And yet it seems to be being shunned by the White House, Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, Drew, thank you. Drew Griffin reporting.
Joining us now, Dr. Tom Inglesby, a former outside adviser to the CDC, was now the director of the Center for Health Security, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Inglesby, thanks for joining us. And as you just heard from Drew
Griffin, officials inside the CDC, they now feel they're being muzzled by the White House. How does that impact the CDC's ability to effectively respond to this pandemic?
DR. TOM INGLESBY, FORMER OUTSIDE ADVISER TO THE CDC: Well, I mean, I think it's kind of self-evident that we should be responding to this pandemic with the best science and public health that we have available in this country. And the CDC, I mean, the name says it all, it's the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are 10,000 people there that work around the -- over the course of the year, every year, for 74 years now, working on disease prevention and control. Some of the best epidemiologists, doctors, virologists, data scientists that we have in the country. And they should be able to speak directly with the country when they have an analysis that's important, that relates to COVID-19, they should be able to talk about that analysis.
BLITZER: They should have daily news briefings for the news media, so the American public will know what's going on as well. That's just my opinion. Do you feel, Doctor Inglesby, did you ever feel political pressure like this during your time advising the CDC?
INGLESBY: No, I didn't. I mean, I wasn't in the CDC. But in my interactions with people at CDC, I -- there certainly is a process for making sure communications are approved within the agency and making sure things are correct. But in terms of being able to release information to the public or brief on a new scientific finding, especially during an outbreak or an epidemic, I didn't see that or experience that or see that from the outside.
If you look at past outbreaks in the United States, you can see the CDC was doing daily briefings. As you just said, while things were complicated and dangerous, the CDC was providing the information that it had on a regular basis, very expected schedule of speaking to the American public. And I think they should be able to do that now.
BLITZER: The President was reportedly highly critical of the CDC at his luncheon with Republican senators today up on Capitol Hill. Over the weekend, one of his top advisers went on television to blame the CDC for early testing mishaps. Do you worry that these attacks from the White House will cause the American public to lose trust in all the essential information that comes out of the CDC?
INGLESBY: I really -- I certainly hope not. I really hope not. It's true that there were mistakes made early on. And that did slow down diagnostic testing. I don't think we should hide that. But even with that, you don't throw away the best agency, one of the best public health agencies in the world. It's the agency that many countries turn to during times of pandemic crisis.
You fix the problem, and then you get back with the program. And I think that's what we need to do here. It would be a real mistake to undermine the authority of CDC or the expertise of CDC. And I think if there's something that needs to be fixed, we should fix it. But we shouldn't silence people who are working there, they have a lot to say. It's very important.
BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on the recent developments in the race for a coronavirus vaccine, Doctor Inglesby. The pharmaceutical company Moderna, as you know, reported some very optimistic new data out of their stage 1 trials yesterday. Does that give you hope we could have a vaccine before the end of this year?
INGLESBY: Just speaking about the Moderna trial first, I do think it was a very promising announcement. It was good news. But it was still -- it was in the form of a press release and I think we really need to see the data.
They talked about the results for a subset of the participants in the trial. So I think we're going to need to see the data, need to see what kind of antibody responses were created, how long they lasted, did they occur throughout the age range, in elderly people as well as young people.
So we need to see the data, but it was a promising announcement. Hopefully, we'll see more good news about that soon. And in terms of the timeline overall, whether it's Moderna or another vaccine that gets through the system, it's very encouraging to hear people like Moncef Slaoui who is now directing the vaccine effort for the government and Tony Fauci both saying that they can see a pathway for delivery of a vaccine by the end of the year or the beginning of 2021. I would have said coming into that year that that was an impossible feat, but --
BLITZER: Let's hope they get it. All right, thanks so much, Doctor Inglesby, I really appreciate you joining us.
Coming up, a closer look at the coronavirus headlines from around the world. China hits back at President Trump's latest criticism, accusing the U.S. of a smear campaign.
BLITZER: In global headlines about the pandemic, China is now firing back at President Trump's latest criticism. CNN's Ivan Watson is in Hong Kong for us. Ivan, what are the Chinese saying?
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, China is coming to the defense of the World Health Organization. A spokesman for China's foreign ministry blasting criticism coming from President Trump towards the WHO, accusing the Trump administration of playing the, quote, blame game, and trying to distract people from the Trump administration's own failures within the U.S. at responding to the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
The spokesman also saying that the U.S. has responsibilities as a member state of the WHO to keep annual fees coming, to keep that organization functioning in this time of pandemic. The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, has pledged this week $2 billion over the next two years to help the WHO fight coronavirus, Wolf.
BLITZER: Ivan Watson reporting, thank you.
With coronavirus cases soaring in Russia right now, President Vladimir Putin's popularity is taking a historic hit. CNN's Matthew Chance is monitoring the situation from London for us. Matthew, tell us more.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, more terrible numbers coming out of Russia tonight. Another 9,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, pushing the country's total to nearly 300,000. Still the highest in the world after the U.S. and worryingly for the Kremlin.
As infections continue to rise, the popularity of the Russian president continues to plunge. Pollsters say Vladimir Putin's approval ratings have now dropped from over 80 percent to just 59, an all-time low, hit by the pandemic response and its deep economic impact.
Unemployment in Russia, for instance, is soaring. Kremlin critics accuse Putin, who's run Russia for more than 20 years, of being disengaged, bored, and failing to lead during the crisis. Officials say Putin who now mainly appears in video conferencing with senior officials has been working outside Moscow in his home.
But opposition figures have branded him as a scared, old granddad, hiding in his bunker. Hardly the strong man Putin image that we're used to, Wolf.
BLITZER: Matthew Chance, thank you. In what may serve as a warning to the United States, a new coronavirus scare is forcing dozens of schools in France to close again. Less than a week after they actually reopened. CNN's Melissa Bell is in Paris for us. Melissa, what are you seeing?
MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some bad news for French authorities here today as they continue to try and lift restrictions on the economy and on the movements of people in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic. The schools in this country, 40,000 of them at least, have now been reopened for less than a week.
And there's been a scare in the center of France, Wolf, where a number of schools have to be closed, 70 of them in all, which doesn't mean they had COVID cases in all of them, simply that the scare had led 70 schools to close down. It is these sorts of incidents that are being kept a very close eye on to see whether that returns to something like normal is going to have an impact.
Meanwhile, and more globally, the figures continue to improve here in France and specifically, Wolf, the number of people in ICUs. That's what the French authorities are looking at very carefully. We dropped just below the 2,000 bar this week for the first time, Wolf, in weeks.
BLITZER: Melissa Bell in Paris, thank you. A quick programming note to our viewers. This Sunday, join CNN's Fareed Zakaria as he investigates the moment a pandemic was born. The CNN Special Report, "China's Deadly Secret," is Sunday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.
Coming up, it's unproven, it can be dangerous. But tonight, President Trump is defending his use of hydroxychloroquine for the third time in 24 hours. Plus the U.S. is now poised to be at least partially reopened from coast-to-coast as Connecticut becomes the 50th state to announce plans to get back to business.
BLITZER: There is growing concern tonight about reopening schools amid rising number of cases of a rare inflammatory syndrome in children, that's believed to be tied to the coronavirus. The former City Health Commissioner Baltimore Dr. Leana Wen is joining us right now. Dr. Wen, this rare inflammatory syndrome has been seen in children across the United States and Europe as well. What signs and symptoms do parents and caregivers need to look for as they monitor for this coronavirus- related syndrome?
DR. LEANA WEN, FORMER BALTIMORE CITY HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Well this is a new syndrome that just got reported in late April in the U.K. and now that happened over 200 cases in New York and I believe it's now in over 14 states here in the U.S. And it is rare, as you said, Wolf, but it's also very unusual.
It seems to be a combination of Kawasaki's disease, inflammation of the -- of blood vessels including of the blood vessels of the heart combined with toxic shock-like syndrome that could result in multiorgan failure and children being really critically ill.
And what's strange about this too is that it seems to be after children contract COVID-19 and even recovered from it. And so parents should be watching out for fever, low blood pressure, a strange rash, other symptoms like abdominal pain and not feeling well. Again, these are different types of symptoms that's associated with COVID-19. It's not just a fever, cough, shortness of breath, it's also after one recovers from COVID-19, children could still develop these very strange but very concerning symptoms.
BLITZER: Doctor Wen, what are researchers learning about how to treat the syndrome? And are children responding well to the treatment?
WEN: Well, children are resilient in general and the children so far with this syndrome have done generally pretty well although many have ended up in the intensive care unit and unfortunately, a few children have died from the syndrome.
And so there are treatments that work but typically there what we called supportive treatments. It's supporting these children in managing their symptoms and of course there are specific treatments that are given like immunoglobulin and steroids that have been treating Kawasaki's disease for a long time.
I think all of these underscores though that there is not one demographic that's immune from the effects of COVID-19. That there's a lot about this disease that we don't know. And again, very strangely, it seems to last even into the recovery period and it doesn't just affect the respiratory system. It also affects the kidneys, it affects the heart, it affects the nervous system, the skin. And we're learning so much more about this disease every day.
BLITZER: Well certainly are -- given what we know, perhaps more importantly what we don't know about how children respond to this virus, when will you as a physician feel it's safe for children to return to school?
WEN: This is a really hard question to answer in part because it's not -- I mean, this alone, this new syndrome, it's still pretty rare. So this alone is not what would keep children out of school. But we have to think about how children are vectors for transmitting this disease, including to their other relatives. And until we have widespread testing, I find it challenging to have kids go back to school just yet.
BLITZER: Dr. Wen, thanks so much for joining us as usual.
WEN: Thank you.
BLITZER: There's breaking news next, President Trump defying an FDA warning and once again touting the unproven and possibly unsafe drug he's taking which he thinks will protect him from the coronavirus.